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As of 1 September 2020, Hungary closed its borders to non-Hungarian citizens again (for further details please see "COVID-19 travel restrictions are back"). The rules abolished the tricolour system of green, yellow and red countries (for further details please see "Travel restrictions are back") and qualified virtually all countries as red. The rules introduced then – by a recent legislative amendment – will remain in force until 1 December 2020.
Parallel to the above and following other European countries, as of 4 November 2020 and 11 November 2020, the government introduced new restrictions, including the limited order to stay at home between 8:00pm and 5:00am and closed all music venues, nightclubs and entertainment facilities, including cinemas and theatres. Bars and restaurants may offer only takeaway or delivery services.
What do the restrictions mean from an employment perspective? Do they mean that people cannot travel abroad for pleasure or for business purposes? The law recognises a number of exceptions and the short answer is yes, people can do these things taking into account the conditions pertaining thereto.
Hungarian citizens may return to Hungary from any country but will face a 10-day quarantine unless they have tested negative for COVID-19 twice. Non-Hungarian citizens with permanent residence in Hungary and those who can stay in Hungary for more than 90 days will be treated the same as Hungarian citizens.
If any of the following people enter Hungary after participating in an international sports or cultural event held abroad, the same rules apply:
Foreign citizens (not listed above) cannot generally enter Hungary. However, the government decree recognises exceptions, for example commuters from a neighbouring country or persons with a verifiable reasonable cause (eg, compulsory court procedures, funerals, weddings, studies and people participating in sports or cultural events). In other words, travel cannot be based on the desire to go on holiday, but an important family occasion, official tasks or sports or cultural events may be a valid reason for travel. Persons participating at such events must wear face masks – failure to do so may result in severe penalties and fines.
Similar to the restrictions issued during the first wave of the pandemic, business travel still enjoys a beneficial exception. However, who can enter Hungary in connection with company activities? Is it limited to foreign managing directors and other directors or can blue collar employees enter Hungary?
Employees and representatives of entities with an affiliated company in Hungary can enter Hungary without any further restrictions. On crossing the border, the business reason for travel must be proved (eg, with an employment contract or invitation letter). Travellers do not need to prove the legal relationship between the respective companies; nevertheless, it is ideal if such a relationship is apparent from the documents that the traveller brings. Consequently, both directors (managers) and blue collar workers can enter Hungary on due verification of a business reason for their travel.
The same applies to Hungarian citizens leaving Hungary for business (ie, they may return to Hungary without any restrictions if they can prove on their return that the trip was for business purposes).
Reading the new rules, a further question arises: what should travellers do if they arrive in Hungary at night or early in the morning when they are subject to the limited stay-at-home order?
The law treats employment and business-related travel as a key exception from the rules. For the purpose of work, going to the workplace from home (or a hotel) and vice versa does not infringe the limited stay-at-home order. Thus, for business purposes, not only is cross-border travelling allowed but so is travelling during curfew hours. As such, if a non-Hungarian manager's flight arrives late at night, there is no travel restriction and they are free to travel to the hotel that they have reserved.
First published on ILO, 02.12.2020
authors: Alexandra Bognár and Dániel Gera
Attorney at Law